Singapore International Film Festival 2017 boasts a comprehensive and prestigious line-up of films, many of which have screened to acclaim at major international film festivals this year. Unsure of which to see? We’ve picked out six titles in particular that have made their names around the world. It’s worth checking out what the buzz is about.
“It’s not right… to slaughter people like cattle”. So says a character in Closeness, newcomer director Kantemir Balagov’s feature-length debut. This film arrives in Singapore with a heavy dose of controversy, which even saw some audiences members leaving theatres halfway through at previous festivals—thanks the inclusion of real-life anti-Semitic snuff footage from the late ’90s, made by a Chechnya-based Islamist group. Those who stick around, however, will be rewarded with a thought-provoking exploration of familial relationships, conflicted personal morals and ethical dilemmas, influenced by the French New Wave. Set in North Caucasus, Russia, the film begins with Illana (Darya Zhovnar, also her feature debut) and the engagement of her younger brother, David (Veniamin Kac). The story takes a left turn when the family receives a ransom note pertaining to the kidnapping of the young couple. With little funding and a surprisingly fresh cast and crew, Closeness took home the FIPRESCI Prize for Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section this year.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You want to weigh in on the debate about this film’s ethics; you like enigmatic character-driven movies with intense drama; you’re interested in themes of religious and racial conflict.
28 NOV, TUE / 9:30 PM / FILMGARDE BUGIS+
2. No Date, No Signature
Put your seat belts on for this film—come the closing scene, you’re going to wish it was longer. Iranian neorealist filmmaker Vahid Jalilvand (known for Wednesday, May 9, his previous film which claimed the FIPRESCI Award at the 72nd Venice Film Festival) returns with yet another jaw-dropping feature. No Date, No Signature follows a forensics doctor, Kaveh Nariman (Amir Agha’ee) who suspects that his involvement in a minor traffic accident may just be the cause of an 8-year-old boy’s death. Kaveh and the victim’s family, especially the father of the deceased, Moosa (Navid Mohammadzadeh), conduct their own parallel searches for the truth. This movie too took home top awards at Venice, where Jalilvand and Mohammadzadeh were awarded Best Director and Best Actor respectively. The acclaim shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to Mohammadzadeh’s gritty performance—especially in a scene where he confronts the “perpetrator” of his son’s death.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re a fan of veteran Iranian filmmaker Ashgar Farhadi’s work, especially 2011 masterpiece A Separation.
3. Sexy Durga
What appears to be a harmless act of kindness at the start of this Indian-made thriller (which, remarkably, was shot in one night and without a screenplay) soon turns into a nightmare for a young, eloping couple, as they find themselves in a claustrophobic van with a group of local hooligans. The bride, Durga (Rajshri Despande), is often the subject of their chaff. This plot intertwines with a local ritual, Garudan Thookam, performed in Kerala to display reverence for Goddess Durga. While Sexy Durga has performed admirably at various international film festivals—most notably becoming the first-ever Indian/Malayalam film to do win International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Hivos Tiger Award— the movie has been under scrutiny in its home country, as detractors argue that director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s choice of title is inappropriate and offensive. Wherever you come down on that debate, the long takes and fear-inducing innuendo in this film might remind you of Michael Haneke’s thriller Funny Games.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re a horror/thriller-buff who enjoys the thrill of a cat-and-mouse game.
4. Sweet Country
This Aussie feature reportedly received a five-minute standing ovation during its screening at Venice Film Festival this year, where it took home the Special Jury Prize. What’s the fuss about? Well, indigenous director Warwick Thornton wastes no time establishing its themes: The opening scene includes two off-screen men calling each other “whitefella” and “blackfella”. Taking place in the early 1900, a manhunt for an Aboriginal couple begins when a white landowner is found dead with a gunshot to the neck. Thornton, who besides directing also served as the cinematographer, successfully captures the scorching, dismal landscape of the outback, the perfect setting for the intense chase. You might find resonances of Steve McQueen’s Best Picture-winning 12 Years A Slave in Sweet Country‘s display of violently prejudiced treatment towards its dark-skinned characters. Thornton’s previous film, Samson and Delilah, won the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes in 2009.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: Turn-of-the-century racism has unfortunate echoes in today’s world; you’re a fan of star Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Piano); five minutes is a long time for a standing ovation!
Cocote, set in the Dominican Republic, will challenge your own moral compass through its amalgamation of many contemporary issues. It all begins when Alberto (Vicente Santos), an Evangelical Christian gardener, returns to his hometown to bury his father, who has been murdered. Alberto’s religious beliefs come gradually under attack as relatives and friends press him to find justice. Cocote dives deep into the dichotomy of religion and political corruption in Dominican Republic. Director Nelson Carlso de Los Santos Arias’ experimental decision to shoot the film in 360 shots (which constantly change aspect ratios and colours) is a stunning, though tumultuous, feat. At times, the movie feels like a documentary, blurring the lines between what’s fiction and what’s not; Arias chose to work with non-professional actors, giving them full freedom for their own dialogue. A co-production between the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Germany and Qatar, Cocote won Locarno Film Festival’s Signs of Life Award this year.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You want to see formal innovation grounded in a poignant human story.
6. The First Lap
Up-and-coming young director Kim Dae-hwan’s second feature-length movie depicts a relatable story of a young couple grappling with their families’ expectations and their undecided future. Kim’s predominant use of natural light, long takes and hand-held camera movements heighten the film’s sensibility and naturalism with a low-key charm. The First Lap culminates in a euphoric, cathartic, yet implosive finale that may well leave you with the warm taste of loss. The film played at major international festivals including Locarno Film Festival and Vancouver Film Festival.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re looking for a simply-told romantic drama with deft insights into human relationships; you want to get behind director Kim from the get-go, because he’s a talent you’ll be hearing about for years to come.
The 28th Singapore International Film Festival runs November 23 to December 3, 2017. Get your tickets here.